Category Archives: Wildlife Protection

Support Trailside in the State Budget

As the FY20 state budget continues its progress through the State House, we’re at a crucial point for Mass Audubon’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum funding.

Trailside is the interpretive center for the state-owned Blue Hills Reservation and features a natural history museum and outdoor exhibits of rescued wildlife. Mass Audubon operates the museum in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, which means we receive a crucial component of Trailside’s funding through the state budget each fiscal year. Trailside welcomes more than 100,000 visitors a year and is home to the Snowy Owl Project.

Trailside director Norman Smith preparing to release a snowy owl

Although the Governor’s original FY20 budget did not include funding for Trailside, Senator Walter Timilty has filed an amendment requesting $1 million for the site. The Senate begins debate of their version of the FY20 budget on May 21. 

Over the past few years, Trailside has faced a continuing revenue shortfall and received only a fraction of the state funding needed to sustain its operation and public programs. Senator Timilty’s amendment is a chance to reclaim that much-needed funding.

You can help! Please contact your state Senator and ask them to cosponsor Senator Timilty’s Amendment #908 for Trailside, and to support the amendment when it comes up for debate next week. A quick call or email can make a big difference. Thank you for your advocacy!

The Beacon Hill Weekly Roundup – May 5, 2019

Thank Your Congressperson for Supporting Climate Action

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons user Arthurguo (Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

Last week Congress passed the Climate Action Now Act to uphold US commitment to the Paris climate agreement. It’s the first large-scale climate change legislation to pass congress in nearly 10 years, and Massachusetts’ delegation unanimously voted yes. Please take a minute to contact your representative to thank them for taking climate action.

Meeting with Congressman Moulton

Mass Audubon and our environmental partners met with Congressman Seth Moulton last week at his Salem office, where our discussion included topics like conservation funding and regional marine fisheries issues. Learn more about the meeting.

Climate Central

Photo credit: Zeynel Cebeci

A curated selection of climate news from Mass Audubon’s climate change program manager

Upholding National Environmental Protections

Green sea turtle photo credit: NOAA

We joined partners in opposing changes in the Navy’s compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. The proposed revision would make it easier to approve projects that adversely affect endangered and threatened species

Coastal Protections at Risk

We also submitted joint comments on proposed changes to the Coastal Zone Management Act, which would weaken state-level review of federal coastal development projects. This is especially problematic at a time when expanded offshore oil and gas drilling has been proposed at the federal level.

Offshore Drilling Expansion Delayed

Humpback whales are among the many species whose habitat could be impacted by an expansion in offshore drilling. Photo credit: NOAA

Good news though – federal plans to expand offshore drilling have been postponed. The delay is largely due to a recent court decision upholding protections in parts of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. While this news is encouraging, a delay doesn’t mean our fight is over, so we’ll be keeping it up.

Poll of the Week

According to a MassInc poll, 68% of Massachusetts voters support the creation of a regional carbon-trading plan for transportation.

Reducing Plastic Bag Pollution Statewide

In Massachusetts, nearly 100 communities have taken action to reduce pollution by passing single-use plastic bag bans. Now, the state legislature has a chance to pass legislation that would create a cohesive, statewide law.

We testified last week before the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture in support of An Act reducing plastic bag pollution (H.771), which would significantly reduce the use of single-use plastic bags across the state.

Over 100 billion plastic shopping bags are consumed in the US each year, and while a small portion are reused or recycled, millions end up in landfills and along roadsides, in waterways, and floating in the ocean.

Marine animals are at risk of ingesting plastic bags they mistake for food, like jellyfish. Green sea turtle photo credit: NOAA

These single-use bags pose a threat to sea turtles, whales, and other marine animals that die from eating plastic bags they mistake for food.  And because they are made from polyethylene, which is made from crude oil and natural gas, plastic bags deplete nonrenewable resources and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Countries across the globe have started getting serious about plastic bags – the UK, Bangladesh, China, and dozens of others have successfully banned or introduced a tax on disposable plastic bags.

Mass Audubon will continue to support communities in their local efforts, but it’s time for Massachusetts to take action at the statewide level to provide consistency for businesses and consumers.

You can help! Please email your state representative and ask them to support H.771. Let them know that we need a comprehensive, statewide policy to reduce single-use plastic bags and the pollution they cause in our oceans and waterways. Reducing the use of these bags statewide will contribute to a shift away from disposable, petroleum-based products.

Offshore Drilling Expansion Partially Blocked

Good news – the Trump administration’s plan to expand offshore oil and gas drilling in parts of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans has been blocked in federal court.

Thanks to a lawsuit brought forward by the League of Conservation Voters and ten other conservation and indigenous groups, a federal judge has upheld permanent protection from offshore drilling for select protected areas of the Atlantic Ocean, and nearly all of the Arctic Ocean, as established by President Obama in 2016.

Mass Audubon has been speaking out on this issue too, and while this is decidedly a victory, our work isn’t over. Much of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are still at risk from expanded drilling, and the Trump administration will likely appeal the ruling.

Expanded offshore drilling could threaten species like the endangered North Atlantic right whale. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries

We have to keep up the opposition! At the national level, the Coastal & Marine Economies Protection Act was introduced in Congress to ban offshore drilling & seismic testing on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. And here in Massachusetts, Mass Audubon supports legislation filed by Cape and Islands Senator Julian Cyr that would prohibit offshore oil and gas drilling in state waters. We’ll keep you posted on opportunities to support these bills as they comes up for hearings and votes.

And save the date – our partners at the Massachusetts chapter of the Surfrider Foundation will be organizing a Boston-area event on May 18 as part of Hands Across the Sand. This global initiative is a chance to stand in solidarity and support protection of our lands and waters from fossil fuel development.

Help Protect Monarch Butterflies

It’s hard not to smile when spotting the distinctive orange patterns of a monarch butterfly. They are symbols of both fragility and strength, their delicate wings carrying many of them as far as 3,000 miles during migration season. Monarchs also serve as pollinators for many types of wildflowers.

Unfortunately, monarchs are on the decline – their populations have decreased by over 80% in the past 20 years due to factors like habitat loss, pesticides, and climate change.

Photo credit: USFWS

Mass Audubon is signing onto a letter, led by our partners at the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council, to support monarch butterfly conservation funding in the federal budget. We’re urging the House Appropriations Committee to substantially increase the amount of funding spent on the conservation of monarchs, and on the restoration of their habitat.

You can help! If you live in Congresswoman Katherine Clark’s district, please urge her, as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, to increase the amount spent on monarch conservation in the FY2020 federal budget to $100 million per year.

Photo credit: USFWS

And no matter who your federal legislators are, you can still ask them to support increased budget funding for monarchs.  $100 million per year in federal budget funding would cover the cost of restoring one million acres of milkweed and pollinator habitat per year, allowing monarchs to be more resilient to the numerous threats they face.

Monarchs are one of our most beautiful harbingers of spring. Thank you for taking action to help ensure their long-term survival so we can have the privilege of co-existing with them for many seasons to come.

P.S. – There are lots more ways you can help protect Monarchs and other pollinators.

Help Prevent Bird-Building Collisions

In the U.S., window strikes are estimated to kill up to 1 billion birds annually, and window strikes are one of the leading causes of death for migratory birds.  The problem occurs when birds see their natural habitat mirrored in windows and fly directly into the glass, causing injury, and, in 50 % or more of the cases, death.

Photo credit: John McHugh CC BY 2.0

To help reduce these preventable bird deaths, Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL) has reintroduced the Bird-Safe Buildings Act: legislation requiring all new and redesigned federal buildings to incorporate bird-safe building materials and design features.

You can help by asking your US Representative to protect birds by cosponsoring H.R. 919, the Bird-Safe Buildings Act.

Learn more about this issue.

Review on Offshore Wind Picks Up

Mass Audubon’s top climate change mitigation priority is the responsible development and use of offshore wind, which could bring more than 4 gigawatts of clean, renewable energy to Massachusetts. We’ve been participating in the public review process for this growing industry, the leading project for which is currently Vineyard Wind. When built, this 800 megawatt project is expected to provide enough electricity to power approximately 400,000 homes, while removing approximately 2 million tons of carbon emissions from the air.

Three other projects are also on the horizon, and three additional federal leases off Massachusetts were recently granted in a record-breaking auction.

This week, we weighed in on the latest stages in the Vineyard Wind permitting process. This project would be located in federal waters, with transmission cables crossing Massachusetts waters and connecting to a landfall on Cape Cod. That means it has to go through both federal and state reviews.

BOEM’s most recent map shows the planned projects, and leases for potential future projects, that will make up the offshore wind industry off Massachusetts’ shores

First, we submitted comments with our conservation partners to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement. At a time when offshore wind is growing with unprecedented momentum, it’s crucial that BOEM ensures projects take measures to protect species like the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale and federally-protected birds.

We also submitted separate comments, again with partners, to the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. These comments focused on the Final Environmental Impact Report for Vineyard Wind’s land-based transmission cable, which also takes into account the project’s overall impact on Massachusetts. We recommended that the project follow a proposed route that would limit impacts to fish spawning areas, horseshoe crabs, and other benthic resources, and that it address the full range of potential impacts on all bird species known to forage and rest in or near the project area.

As we expect to see up to seven wind energy projects over the next few years off the Massachusetts coast, it’s important to establish sound environmental review, and mitigation, practices now. Mass Audubon’s role in this process is to help ensure the industry grows in a way that will help reduce the worst effects of climate change, without negatively impacting wildlife.

Say No to Seismic Testing

Recently, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) authorized the use of seismic testing for offshore oil and gas resources in the Atlantic Ocean. According to the lawsuit filed by a group of nine Attorneys General, including Massachusetts’ Maura Healey, this decision violates environmental law and has the potential to harm more than 300,000 marine mammals. The group is suing the Trump administration over this decision.

Specifically, the NMFS decision issued Incidental Harassment Authorizations to five private companies for seismic testing for offshore oil and gas exploration in the Mid- and South-Atlantic Ocean. 

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. Photo credit: NOAA

Going forward, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is responsible for permitting geophysical surveys, and makes decisions about energy development in the waters of the outer continental shelf. The seismic testing decision also comes as the federal government is moving forward with a proposal to expand US offshore oil and gas drilling – which we also oppose.

Let BOEM know it would be unacceptable to permit any surveys that allow harmful seismic testing – you can email BOEMPublicAffairs@boem.gov. Our marine species, like the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, are already vulnerable to threats like climate change, and the impacts of these types of tests on their populations could be disastrous.

Wind and Wildlife

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has spoken out against wind energy on the grounds that it kills birds—but estimated bird deaths from wind turbines are small when compared to other human-caused sources of avian mortality, like building collisions. On top of that, climate change is by far the biggest threat to all birds living today. Of Massachusetts’ 143 breeding bird species evaluated by Mass Audubon, 43% are “highly vulnerable” to its effects.

That’s why Mass Audubon supports responsibly-sited wind projects to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. We can do this by increasing conservation and efficiency, and by producing clean energy. Wind energy is now among the most cost-effective, competitive, and reliable clean technologies available.

Photo credit: Ryan O’Sullivan

Any development of new energy sources is bound to have some impact on wildlife and their habitat, but Mass Audubon advocates for prospective offshore wind projects to be designed to avoid any significant environmental damage. Anticipated impacts need to be minimized and mitigated – that’s the sequence to success and the review standard to which all projects should be held. With appropriate design, siting and mitigation, the industry can grow as Massachusetts does its part to combat the impacts of global climate change.

Read more in our recent Op Ed.

More Momentum for US Offshore Wind

Update 12/17/18:

Last week, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held their auction for three offshore wind leases in federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The results were staggering – the winning bids from three companies totaled $405 million, which is nearly a tenfold increase from the most recent prior federal sale! The areas could support approximately 4.1 gigawatts of commercial wind generation, enough to power nearly 1.5 million homes. Federal officials and wind industry insiders alike were surprised by the sale – this Boston Globe article looks at how the event marks a decided shift for US offshore wind energy.

In other wind news, Mass Audubon will also be commenting on the latest stage of Vineyard Wind’s proposed offshore project later this month, on which BOEM will be holding public hearings.

Original post:

Last week the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced several major developments in American offshore wind energy, including one here in Massachusetts.

Expansion of offshore wind here in the US will be critical in reducing emissions that contribute to climate change.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will hold the next Massachusetts offshore wind auction – to include nearly 390,000 acres – on December 13, 2018. Nineteen companies have qualified to participate in the auction. It’s estimated that this auction could support more 4.1 gigawatts of power to supply nearly 1.5 million homes. Mass Audubon plans to review and comment on any projects resulting from the lease.

Speaking at the American Wind Energy Association Offshore Wind Conference, DOI Secretary Zinke also announced the environmental review of a proposed wind project offshore Rhode Island, and the next steps to a first-ever wind auction in federal waters off of California.

While this is good news for the growth of renewable energy, the Trump administration also plans to ease Endangered Species Act regulations to speed up the approval process for offshore wind projects. Mass Audubon will be opposing that change – for offshore wind deployment to be done in a way that is safe for wildlife, a full understanding of the risks to species is needed.

Learn more about Mass Audubon’s recent involvement with the offshore wind public review process here.